DECEMBER 5, 2011. MONTGOMERY COUNTY, PA. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is speaking out strongly against the proposed Montgomery County 2012 budget announced last Wednesday. The budget would cut $7.7 million by eliminating both the County's Parks department and Planning Commission. The move, if enacted, would have drastic consequences for both Montgomery County residents and park and trail users who live throughout the region.
Eliminating the Parks Department would end maintenance of the County's 6,000 acres of park and 60 miles of trail. Trails and parks would not be maintained, lit at night, patrolled by park rangers, or cleared of trash, fallen trees, or snow. This would not prevent determined individuals, however, from using that land. The result would be to expose those individuals to increased risk of injury and crime, and to expose the County to increased liability for those incidents.
"It's an irresponsible and short-sighted budget quick fix based on politics instead of the interests of Montgomery County residents," said Sarah Clark Stuart, Campaign Director of the Bicycle Coalition. "Rather than being creative or courageous, the Commissioners have decided to undercut one of the biggest contributors to Montgomery County's quality of life. Who wants to move to, raise children in, or spend time and money in a county that does value or take care of its own parks and trails?"
Actions taken by Bicycle Coalition members and supporters have resulted in more than 1,200 letters and e-mails being sent to the Montgomery County Commissioners in the past week. The advocacy group is also encouraging Montgomery County residents to attend the public hearing on the budget, set for this Wednesday at 10:00 AM in Norristown.
The Bicycle Coalition also takes exception to the budget's plan to eliminate the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is the agency responsible for obtaining and leveraging the state and federal transportation and natural resource funds that helped build the County's parks and trails, one of the best and most heavily used in Southeastern PA.
"Federal and state money helped build an extensive county trail system, and new projects are in the works. Abandoning these projects, and eliminating the Planning Commission that obtained that funding in the first place would place current awards and future funding in jeopardy. It's nonsensical for Montco to cripple its own ability to obtain federal and state funding," said Stuart.
"If this budget is enacted as proposed, it would affect the wider region as well. By not maintaining the Schuylkill River Trail, which is the backbone of the region's trail network, Montco will be impacting many visitors from outside of the county. It's as if the County decided to stop fixing potholes or plowing Ridge Pike. They have a responsibility to, and an economic interest in, the hundreds of thousands of people from outside the County using that thoroughfare to reach employers and businesses."
A 2008 study by The Rails To Trails Conservancy found that Montgomery County's Perkiomen Trail attracts 400,000 users annually who spend $4.4 million in goods and services. The estimated yearly routine maintenance cost of that trail is $45,000.
The tax increase listed as an alternative to the budget cuts would raise real estate taxes an average of $130 for County residents. Montgomery County real estate taxes have not increased in Montgomery County in 5 years, and they remain both among the lowest in the state and 5% lower than they were in 2002. Properties were last assessed in Montgomery County in 1996.
A public hearing on the budget is happening at 10:00 AM this Wednesday at:
One Montgomery Plaza, 8th Floor
Swede St and W. Airy Ave
The final adoption vote on the budget is scheduled for December 21st.